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But partisan Washington gridlock quickly took hold and a supercommittee of lawmakers tasked with coming up with a plan to find alternative spending cuts to replace the sequester failed to reach a deal after negotiating for months.

As the country braced for the cuts to kick in and Washington to tumble off the fiscal cliff Jan. 1, lawmakers struck a last-minute deal that shifted the first two months of cuts into future spending bills and replaced the rest with an increase in the way retirement accounts are taxed. Still, the deal postponed another $85 billion in cuts to March 1 — a way to buy more time to find alternative sources of revenue.

The Pentagon in recent weeks has grown increasingly pessimistic about the chances of avoiding the cuts, and the branches of the military have issued memos outlining what programs and sections would be hit hardest.

Washington think tanks and policy centers have warned repeatedly of the havoc that the cuts could wreak on the economy. The Bipartisan Policy Center has estimated that 1 million jobs could be lost this year and next as a direct result of the spending cuts, and defense industry analysts say that number could rise to 2 million this year alone.

The president made his plea as Senate Democrats were meeting in Annapolis for their annual retreat. Mr. Obama is scheduled to address the group Wednesday.